This blog entry presents various international and local positions on the future of the Serbian autonomous province of Kosovo. It provides a critical reflection on these positions and situates this debate in the broader philosophical framework of the future and purposes of the EU. The entry concludes that, whatever the future status of Kosovo will be, the only way to prevent renewed conflict between the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians in the foreseeable future is to offer to both Serbia and Kosovo a clear prospect for EU membership. International law alone is clearly not able to solve and stabilize the situation in the region.
Kosovo is currently under the international protectorate of the UN and NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR. This regime was established by UN Security Council resolution 1244, which came into force after the 1999 NATO Alliance bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now called “Serbia and Montenegro”). Formally speaking, this resolution affirmed that Kosovo remains under the sovereignty of Belgrade. De facto, however, the Province is run by an international administration as well as local institutions that are growing in power. Kosovo’s Albanian majority is increasingly dissatisfied with the present status quo, and is pressing for the province’s independence. At the same time, the life remains exceedingly difficult for province’s national minorities, despite certain meager improvements recently. The international community insists that talks on the province’s final status cannot begin before standards on issues such as basic human right and minority protection are achieved. There is a tacit consensus that this policy, “standards before the status” has failed to produce results, and that regardless of the standards, the negotiations on a status agreement are likely to start towards the end of this year, possibly in September. What are the options?
The Serbian government is wary of clearly pronouncing its position before negotiations actually start. For this reason, for a long time Belgrade has kept silent on its negotiating platform, while branding the Kosovo Albanian independence platform as totally unacceptable. This prompted criticism from the international community, which argued that Belgrade is clear on what they do not want (invoking international law and the resolution 1244) but is ambiguous on the extent to which it is ready to make concessions towards the Kosovar Albanians. Belgrade’s silence in terms of what it wants would seem to indicate that it supports to the status quo ante (thus the regular 1974 territorial autonomy for Kosovo), which is totally unrealistic, in the sense that the Kosovo Albanians would never agree to it. Then, recently, the Serbian government came with a plan for the decentralization of the province, with it’s status to be governed by vaguely worded phrase “more than autonomy, less than independence.” Arguably, this phrase was a reply to the international criticisms that Serbia only says “no” without proposing politically pragmatic ways to resolve the problem.
The Albanians want nothing less than full independence. There are nuances between Kosovo Albanian political parties insofar as how much autonomy they are ready (and able) to concede to national minorities once Kosovo becomes independent. Some Kosovo Albanians want an independent, ethnically homogenous (i.e., Albanian) Kosovo, others are ready to secure some institutional protection for minorities (Serbs, Roma etc.), aware that this will contribute to the positive international image of their state and increase its chances for eventual EU membership. A minority genuinely dreams of a multicultural Kosovo.
The international community has – for now – excluded three scenarios: the partition of the Province (where the Serbian part remains in Serbia, the Albanian goes independent), the unification of independent Kosovo with Albania and the return to the pre-1999 constitutional situation.
There are numerous independent proposals on how the future status of Kosovo is to be arranged; most of these suggest that independence is the most likely solution. These proposals, however, differ in the extent to which they are ready to take both Albanian and Serbian concerns into consideration.
The International Crisis Group, a prominent think thank and a powerful ad hoc lobby group, suggested in a recent report that Kosovo be granted independence, notwithstanding Serbia’s objections. Drawing a parallel with the 1999 bombing of Serbia - which, according to many mainstream observers, violated of international law - the ICG argues that Serbia should be sent a clear message that the “train is leaving the station”: Kosovo will move towards independence with or without its consent. As far as the Security Council is concerned, the ICG suggests that Kosovo be granted independence, even in the case of a Russian veto or disagreement. The rationale for such proposal is pragmatic: a disastrous economic situation and general insecurity has made Kosovo Albanians nervous, and thus more likely to commit violent attacks against the Serbs, like those of 17th March 2004, in the future. As far as the international community’s insistence on the “standards before the status” policy, the ICG says that the Albanians cannot be “generous” towards minorities if they feel insecure, and that hence, only independence will render them secure. The report’s most striking sentence, however, is that, “it would be appropriate, given everything that has happened in the past and the uncertainties about the behavior in the future”, to give the Kosovo Albanians independence. Whereas they desire to avoid moral argumentation, their argument remains tacitly moral. In a timid way they want to say: Kosovo Albanians should get independence because of what they suffered during the years of Milosevic regime, especially during the 1999 NATO bombing of FRY. Without the moral argument ICG’s suggestion is factually weak because they are unable to answer the question of what will ensure that the Kosovo Albanians, after independence, if the economic situation of the country does not improve (and this is the most likely scenario at least in the near future), will not turn against their Serbian and Roma neighbors (and others) to vent their frustration at economic hardship. The ICG suggests several institutional provisions to countenance this, but they remain insufficiently elaborated. What the ICG does not want to say is that Kosovo morally deserves independence because of the past events. The ICG does not want to advance this argument because it is not likely that such a position would win over anyone within the international decision makers. It would cause a dangerous precedent, not to enter to the historical justification of such an argument. Finally, the ICG forgets to pay attention to Serbia, and the negative implications of the imposing on Kosovo’s independence on the fragile Serbian democracy.
Recently, the UK House of Commons‘ Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report entitled The Western Balkans on February 23, 2005. This report, like that produced by the ICG, suggests that independence might be the most realistic solution for Kosovo, but is much more prudent as far as the strategy of reaching that goal is concerned. Based on an interview of the Norwegian ambassador to NATO, Kai Eide, the report predicted that, if the final status of Kosovo is not resolved soon, Albanians could commit ethnic cleansing of Serbs one more time. It was said, however, “final status…could see an exodus of the Serbian minorities heading back towards Belgrade.” As one UK MP argued, “we are damned if we do and damned if we do not” resolve the status of Kosovo. Misha Glenny--one of the contributors to the report and an expert on the region’s history and politics - argues that “going [to Belgrade] now and telling Serbian politicians that they have to support the idea of a final status which is likely to result in independence of Kosovo is turkeys voting for Christmas. It is no good asking Serbian politicians to do that.” Glenny is convinced that this would bring about the electoral rise of the extreme-nationalist forces in Serbia, an outcome that could possibly have disastrous effects on the region as a whole.
The International Commission on the Balkans, in a report entitled The Balkans in Europe’s Future, published April 12, 2005, also suggests that independence of Kosovo is the best solution, but adds that this could only be achieved if EU membership is a clear prospective for both Serbia and Kosovo. There is, however, a fundamental difference between this report and the report of the ICG: here they argue,” [w]e do not believe that Kosovo's independence will solve all the territory's problems, but we are concerned that postponing the status talks will lead to a further deterioration in the situation in the province.” Moreover, this report, unlike the ICG’s report, takes the interests of the Serbs into account. Their argument boils down to the strategy of Kosovo’s independence in stages, whereby Kosovo would be granted “independence without sovereignty” in 2005/2006 meaning that Kosovo would legally be a protectorate of the UN (or, preferably, the EU). In the following stage, the report calls for “guided sovereignty” where Kosovo starts accession negotiations with the EU. Finally, the Province would move towards full (and the report adds “shared”) sovereignty, which would be reached only at the moment when Kosovo enters the EU (shared in the sense every EU Member State has a shared sovereignty, not that many in the EU would feel comfortable with such a definition). This report is convinced that this can only be achieved if Serbia receives a fast-track EU membership and if the Kosovo Serb community receives substantial guarantees of protection. In this way, the International Commission on the Balkans invokes the old proposal that the international community should buy Serbia’s consent to Kosovo’s independence with EU membership. Is this indeed how much the “most expensive Serbian word [Kosovo]”, costs? The 1389 Kosovo battle myth suggests that it is priceless, but reality says differently.
The most obvious way to ‘buy’ Serbia’s consent to Kosovo’s independence would, of course, be a partition. Benefits of partition would accrue to Serbian public opinion (which would receive a partial satisfaction and relief for the loss of Kosovo), as well as to the Serbian population living in the enclaves that would merge with Serbia (which would not have to rely on the goodwill of the Albanian majority to offer them institutional protection). The negative side of this solution is that it has the potential to cause exodus of, the Serbs living in enclaves situated in the territory of the independent Kosovo who would move either to the northern enclaves (which would merge with Serbia) or to Serbia proper. Such a situation provides a clear moral concern for the representatives of the international community who would be charged with mediating such a settlement.
Serbian politicians indeed agonize about Kosovo. As the ICG report suggests, the political climate in Serbia at the moment is such that a politician who declares himself openly supportive of Kosovo’s independence (for pragmatic or moral reasons) is bound to be sidelined by a vast majority of the political elite and the population. Kosovo is very expensive for the Serbian political elite, even more expensive than the lives of the Serbs living in the Province.
The secession of the ex-Yugoslav republics of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia had basis in international law. Namely, like the Constitution of the Soviet Union, the constitution of Tito’s Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) gave the republics a right to secede. However, it did not give any such right to autonomous provinces. Since Kosovo, was, and still formally is, an autonomous province of Serbia, it cannot invoke the precedent of Croatia and Slovenia in its favor. For this reason, many members of the international community, including the EU and the US, are unlikely to follow the suggestions of the ICG and simply grant Kosovo independence without regard for Serbia’s consent. Instead, they would force (or buy) Serbia’s consent to such an outcome. Serbian politicians are becoming increasingly aware of this and are playing on this card. It is, nevertheless, unclear whether the Kosovo Albanian politicians truly believe that they can gain independence, even without Serbia’s consent. Kosovo’s independence would, even more than the bombing of 1999 and the 2003 Iraq war, disrupt the post WW II international order. It seems rather unlikely that the US and the EU would force such a solution. For this reason, the only solution is to offer Serbia, to use highly inappropriate vocabulary, good price for Kosovo. This price would be either partition, EU membership with strong guarantees for the Kosovo Serbs, or both. The problem is that the Serbian politicians are increasingly aware of this and ask for a higher, unattainable price.
The law of history suggests that young nations living on a small territory with a high demographic growth (Albanians) tend to expand and claim the neighboring territory, through war, migration and then secession, or both. If the neighboring nation, living on a comparatively large territory, is tired and relatively old, with a low demographic growth, like the Serbs are, the situation is ripe for instability in the form of claims to resources and territory. Kosovo is with no doubt the cradle of the Serbian culture and the defining element of the national identity of the Serbs, however, it is a “Serbian cradle in which the Albanian child rocks.”
Is it the role of international law to stop or promote the law of history? To some extent, the role of international law and political constructions is to mediate such laws of history. Old nations have a number of ‘options’: they can choose to stimulate their own demographic renaissance, merge with the young nation through defining its citizenship in a multicultural way, try to assimilate the young nation, or commit genocide. Most nations in the world (nation-states) are a product of one or all of these strategies. It is enough to read Victor Hugo’s 1793 to learn about the forging of the modern French nation. The European Union, more than international law, is an effective tool to keep peace on the continent and to mediate the laws of history. I firmly disagree with the political theorists of the EU polity that argue that peace was, but no longer is the ideal, in whose service the EU exists. They tend to support the argument that the EU is about prosperity and supranationalism but no longer peace. Regardless of how unlikely we think war is, it is highly probable that in the future (maybe very soon in relative terms, in our lifetime) young generation of Europeans (in the Balkans but also in France, Germany etc.) will forget about the horrors of the WW II and the ex-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. The smoke of Auschwitz and the ruins of Dresden will be a myth… and they will be ready to fight again, for in the absence of a secure legal, social and economic environment war becomes an appealing option. The EU supranational polity offers hope in the form of an innovative instrument to countenance the negative aspects of human and societal nature. Only the EU can facilitate Kosovo independence and bring the Serbs and the Albanians closer together, despite the fact that “the most expensive Serbian word” will be lost, maybe forever, and despite the fact that Kosovo Albanians might have to content themselves with a compromise solution of some sort (not as high as the Serbian political elite optimistically expects). The purpose of the EU is to render old realpolitik contemplations futile. Some Serbian politicians like to say: we are losing this territory (referring to Serbian parts of Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo...) until geopolitical circumstances in the future of humanity change in “our favor”. The EU renders such thinking unnecessary. The ideal of Peace (and supranationalism) is there to try to keep the EU polity together, even in the situations of economic decline of the continent, or at least we hope so.